Woodstock Academy students connect with community

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Woodstock - posted Mon., Nov. 21, 2011
(L-r) Back:Annette Costanzo, Abbey Marsalisi, Angel Martin; Front: Aideen Hanlon and Siri Rosendahl greet diners. Photos by D. Coffey.
(L-r) Back:Annette Costanzo, Abbey Marsalisi, Angel Martin; Front: Aideen Hanlon and Siri Rosendahl greet diners. Photos by D. Coffey.

The Woodstock Academy gym was turned into a “Napolean trattoria” on Nov. 18. The spaghetti supper fundraiser was sponsored by the student group Family Related Effective Solutions for Humanity (FRESH). Artwork stood on easels around the room. Classical music was provided by Kelly White. Auction items and baskets to be raffled lined one side of the gym.

But the event was about more than fundraising. It was a testimony to the power of teaching and the good works that come when students take lessons learned and apply them to their world.

FRESH is a relatively new student group. Started in May 2010, it already has the distinction of being “the only certified, non-profit organization in New England organized and run primarily by high-school students.” It is a non-profit corporation within Connecticut, and it is in the process of receiving federal 501-(c)(3) status. What this means for the students is that they must raise funds, search for insurances, and create and maintain financial records, said Sara Dziedzic, the group's advisor.

FRESH's growth can be traced back to a class that Dziedzic taught on international relations. Students from that class went on to take an independent study with her. The group studied non-governmental organizations such as Oxfam America, Greenpeace, and Partners in Health. The final project was to come up with their own NGO.

Siri Rosendahl was a student in the class. “We tried for a local focus,” she said. With some national organizations, you don't see where your money goes, she said. FRESH wanted to be different. The students wanted their money to have an actual impact on people living nearby.

They invited Donna Grant, executive director of the Thompson Ecumenical Empowerment Group, to speak to them. As the director of the regional social service agency, Grant knew of the efforts already underway in the community. With the information she provided, the students decided to create a mentoring program. Dziedzic hopes the program will begin in January 2012, when FRESH members start working with area middle school students. Mentors will visit with students and check in with Dziedzic once a week. They will help students set goals, as well as provide homework help and support.

For Brigette Lajoie, the effort is about building community, as well as helping younger students. Academy students come from all over, Lajoie said. “FRESH is a family that reaches out to the community. It's really unique,” she said.

“We haven't served any families yet,” said Dziedzic, “but we have given back to the community.” The group has donated funds to TEEG, the Woodstock Middle School girls' program and the Audubon Society’s children's programs.

In little more than a year, the group has grown from 18 to more than 40 students. Donations from the spaghetti supper totaled more than $4,000, according to Communications Director Brenda Stockwell.

As they say in Napoli, “Brava.”

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